Ambrose Bierce walked into Mexico
one day, and was never seen again.
That was surprising enough, but
more so, he left no epitaph, the least
you would expect from a writer.
In retrospect, perhaps he was
the smarter one, for I know othersl
who have spent countless hours
trying to devise the perfect epitaph,
knowing they never quite got it right.
I almost fell victim to that trap,
but avoided it the moment that
I realized that regardless of what
I might so carefully select, it is
my heirs who will have the final say.
They said it was essential
for a writer to have a substantial platform,
one built high enough to be easily seen
by those passersby who might just give
a passing glance, even if it was a typo
landed them here, updated, regularly
changing with time, tide, and fashion
always ready, always accommodating.
It must be a composite, the better
to handle storms, ill winds lacking
the ennui of winter, curse of summer.
It was no small task to build,
everyone offered plans, templates,
none ever quite right, but he built it,
and when the time came, like most
writers he knew, it would suffice
where they put the noose around his neck
and hung him by his words, his
truth that they came to hate.
I write letters
to dead heroes
beginning each Dear __________:
I apologize for the intrusion
but in your next life
will you do the same,
give up the desk
in the patent office
for dreams of brothers
twins, one moving
one fixed, stand
before a jury, no testament
to the Lower East Side.
I carefully fold each letter
and put on proper postage
but delivery across
the curtain of mortality
is slow and your
responses have not
but I will
continue to write
for there are always
more with whom
The once gods have been reduced
again to mere mortals
and find the change disquieting.
Just the other day I saw Hermes
meandering along Fifth Avenue
pausing to look at scarves in a window
of a store he never imagined.
Even the once great queen
finds herself behaving like
a love-struck teenager.
One who bred desire now works
as a hack writer for a card company,
a blow to his psyche more
than anyone can imagine.
Even the nameless one
has been seen working behind
the register at Walmart
thankful for the extra hours
as the holiday season approaches.
We no longer aspire to be gods,
it is too much work and there is
simply no payoff.
My shelves grow heavy
with volumes of words
I wish I had written, neatly
bound up in books
that stare at me, at once
bidding me welcome
and challenging me to enter.
One shelf is set aside
for books of pages,
blank, on which I have written
each day now for three
and a half years, words
I did write which, on rereading,
I often wish I hadn’t.
I could write in pencil
erase later in the face of regret,
but the pen seals failure
and, I am sure, helps build
character, which I have in excess
If you are asked “who are you?”
how will you reply, and who
is the person asking the question?
If you answer, you are blind
if you say nothing you speak loudly.
The sage will tell you
that there is no you and if
you doubt him he will hold up
a mirror and ask what you see.
If you answer “I see myself”
he will laugh because no one
can see themselves unless
they see everyone, for you
are both the reader
and the writer
of these poor words.
A reflection on case 131 of the Shobogenzo (True Dharma Eye)